by Jonathon Burgess
They say it takes a village to raise a child. I don’t know about that, but I can say that self-publishing your novel is a mountain of work. As if writing the thing wasn’t hard enough, now you’ve also got to worry about print runs, cover art, professional editing costs, and getting it in front of people who might even want to read it. All of which, takes money. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to get help in raising this literary child of yours. The best one I’ve found so far is to crowdfund using Kickstarter.
For those not familiar with crowdfunding, the concept is fairly straightforward. You create a project on a website such as IndieGoGo or the aforementioned Kickstarter with the intent of raising money towards a certain goal. This could be to help fight cancer, start your own marshmallow store, or to professionally self-publish a novel. Over a given length of time, people decide if they want to back your cause by pledging money to it.
The catch, is that it’s not enough to just put up a project and hope for the best. You’ve got to engage with the crowd. You’ve got to get them interested in helping you. Which takes a little bit of showmanship, yes–one key component of a Kickstarter project is the offer of rewards for those who pledge a certain amount of support. More than that, though, it takes understanding. You need to know who among the faceless crowds you will really appeal to.
Anyone can pledge money toward a Kickstarter project. Ideally, you want as many backers as possible to help reach your goal. In my experience, though, it helps to break your potential audience down into two rough categories. That way, you can focus your efforts and reach out to those who would most respond to what you’re trying to accomplish.
Patrons want to see your project come to life. They like the idea behind it, in part or in whole, and think that it deserves to happen. For them, the rewards offered for pledging aren’t necessarily the important thing. If your project runs into unexpected difficulties or cost overruns, they tend to be the most understanding. Patrons tend to be loyal, so long as you are honest and up-front in turn.
Then there are those that I call Customers, for whom the idea behind your project isn’t as important. Customers are mostly concerned with the rewards that you offer and tend to pledge money accordingly. They see pledging to your project as a transaction. Customers seem to be more numerous and tend to pledge more money towards your overall project, in my experience. However, they are most conscious about delays in production, and also expect prompt, timely delivery.
Understanding these groups seems simple enough on its face; offer a Patron a cool idea, and show a Customer a product they’re going to want to buy. But it isn’t truly so clear cut. People overlap and move between these two categories. The kind of project you are running can also determine how people view it. And no one is going to be very impressed if you can’t clearly demonstrate the ability to make things happen once you’ve got the funding.
In the end, there isn’t any perfect answer on how to succeed. Kickstarter is a tool like any other, and as of writing this, some 60 percent of all projects fail. The best I can hope is that my advice proves useful, that it increases your chances for success. If there’s one thing that you should take away from this article, it’s to remember that when you look to crowdfunding, you aren’t working with an industry or some nebulous special interest. You’re engaging with people. You’re looking for a village to help you raise that literary child.
A renegade wordsmith and unrelenting raconteur, Jonathon Burgess has forsaken the more traditional paths of publishing in order to blaze his own trail. Author of Chasing the Lantern and On Discord Isle, his short fiction has appeared in Subtopian Magazine and been the recipient of the Gallivan Writing award. When not penning tales about sky pirates and ancient clockwork monstrosities, he haunts the Pacific Northwest, complaining about his beer.